Our Voice: Bladderpod decision partial victory at best

Franklin County farmers won a small victory with the recent decision by U.S. Fish and Wildlife to limit protection to what it calls an endangered plant to federal lands.

While farmers and other landowners won't be asked to protect the plant seems like the outcome many had been advocating, it is not a long-term solution to the issue of the White Bluffs bladderpod.

One farmer leading the fight called the exclusion of private land an "empty gesture," and here's why: The plant with the little yellow flowers will continue to loom large because Fish and Wildlife could decide that the use of pesticides or the use of irrigation on nearby lands could pose threats to the plant. It could then limit agricultural activities in a buffer zone around the 2,033 acres of critical habitat owned by the federal government.

And that could affect farmers in a big way, creating a large swath of land that could not be used for farming.

Farmer Kent McMullen, who testified before Congress on the bladderpod issue, said of his reaction: "I guess you could encapsulate it one word - disappointed."

A big portion of that disappointment came from the fact that Fish and Wildlife relied on a process developed in 1735 to designate the plant as threatened, rather than on modern science, McMullen said.

He and other farmers banded together to have the plant studied when federal officials said they did not have the dollars for genetic testing to determine if the plant growing here is truly different from all the other bladderpod species.

A DNA researcher from the University of Idaho took samples of plants and his examination showed that the plant was not distinct. Fish and Wildlife said the study was not broad enough to change a peer review group's decision. The agency also said it could not afford a DNA test of its own, even though farmers claim the government has budgeted more than $600,000 to protect the plant this year. The farmers spent $25,000 on the testing.

The only concession the agency made was to exclude private lands from the plant's designated critical habitat. For now.

The farmers aren't the only ones disappointed in the decision, though it could have been worse for farmers had the private lands remained in the package.

U.S. Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Pasco, has concerns about how the decision was made by Fish and Wildlife.

"The service agreed, behind closed doors, to a deadline with litigious groups to list the bladderpod this year as part of its 'mega-settlement' of numerous lawsuits and it's clear that nothing - not even new, contradictory independent science - was going to stop them," he said.

And as chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, Hastings is in a position do something about it.

"Today's decision is a concrete example of how the 40-year-old Endangered Species Act is in need of reform," he said. "I will insist on an explanation and transparency relating to the service's decision on the bladderpod."

Hastings said he also hopes for some commonsense reforms to the ESA in the near future. We just hope the change happens soon enough to keep a plant that apparently thrives in areas other than the White Bluffs from taking any land out of the mix for one of our most important industries.